Around New Year’s, we often consider our purpose. Samuel Clemens tried his hand at typesetting, riverboat piloting, soldiering, and silver mining before having his first story published. I wonder how the writer we know as Mark Twain would specify his purpose—to entertain ... to teach a moral ... to change the world? His iconic characters, Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, and Jim, did all three.
Considering the body of his work, I’d vote for the latter. Twain observed the ills and evils of his tumultuous times, and through gradual alteration, contributed to altering them. Ernest Hemingway said that “all modern American literature” arose from Huck Finn, published in January, 1885 and called the great American novel.
Decades later, To Kill A Mockingbird revealed the depth of bigotry still active in the South, once again through a child’s eyes. In the same way, The Book Thief and Five Quarters of an Orange strip bare the vagaries of war.
Does this childhood perspective subtly open readers to the truth? I don’t know, but those last two books held me spellbound, as did To Kill A Mockingbird.
I have yet to adapt this principle in a novel, but the children I include make a lot of difference to the main character. Dottie, the heroine of In This Together, loves children—long after her own left home, she volunteers with the wee tots at her church. Never one to mind cleaning up messes, she works the remnants of chocolate cake from an adorable little guy’s pocket before his mom comes to pick him up.
Down on her hands and knees after everyone else leaves, scrubbing up bits of chocolate from cold cement and crackly old 1946 linoleum, Dottie longs to meet her two sweet grandbabies, far away in California, and mourns her only son Bill, who died in the North Africa campaign.
Dottie, who rarely allows her emotions to surface, gives in to an avalanche of grief after her time with these children. But down on the freezing floor, she still looks up. And so does Al, the lonely widower next door who watches her walk to work each morning and trudge home at night. He secretly hopes someday she’ll give him a second glance.
It took Samuel Clemons a while to realize his gift of story. Now that I’m focusing on story too, am I out to entertain, teach, or change the world with my first novel? How do I expect this post-World War II tale to affect readers? For starters, I’d like them to see Dottie Kyle as a friend and cheer her on as she faces down some stubborn, entrenched fears. We all must do that, and to think Dottie might encourage somebody on their journey makes my day.
After losing her only son to World War II and her husband soon after, Dottie Kyle takes a job at a local boarding house. Her daughter Cora moved to California straight out of high school to work for the war effort, married a sailor and settled down in the Golden State—another loss.
Dottie contributes to her rural Iowa post-war world by cooking and cleaning, volunteering at her church, and tending her garden. But when troubles arise in Cora’s third pregnancy, Dottie longs to help Cora and meet those two grandbabies out in California. However, old fears prohibit her from making that arduous, cross-country train journey.
At the boarding house, complications arise that force Dottie to speak up for what’s right, and as her confidence grows, so does the unexpected interest of the widower next door. Nary a reason to blush here, but plenty of opportunity to cheer Dottie on to victory!
Heroines that Dare to Bloom parallels Gail’s long journey to blooming as a writer. She and her husband enjoy gardening and grandchildren in Northern Iowa, and she facilitates writing workshops and women’s retreats.
WhiteFire Publishing released her memoir, Catching Up With Daylight in 2013, and her debut women’s historical fiction, In This Together (Wild Rose Press/Vintage Imprint) released in November. She also contributed to the Little Cab Press 2015 Christmas Anthology https://www.facebook.com/LittleCABpress
Please feel free to contact Gail—meeting new reading friends is the meringue on her pie, as Dottie would say!